Lou Paskalis color photo

The System Works

The power of the American justice system and its free press was on display in Georgia. Corporate America should take notice.



I was sitting in my living room—glued to cable news well into the early morning hours watching coverage of the unsealing of indictments in Georgia—when I was struck by an immutable observation: the “system,” however flawed and increasingly co-opted by those who would prefer to see its undoing, had worked. Laws had very likely been broken. The process of bringing those at the center of a conspiracy to defraud the American people and misrepresent the good work of the officials responsible for mounting a free and fair election in Georgia had been identified by Georgia District Attorney, Fani Willis, and indicted for their alleged actions. The wheels of justice, however slow, had turned in the general direction that they are supposed to turn. The goal was to ensure that the choice of the American people is the only one that can determine who represents them locally, at a state level and nationally. The system, however flawed, is still the envy of much of the free world because when the people speak their voice is and must be heard.

I started to reflect on this in the context of choices that I have made in my career. Earlier this year, I joined Ad Fontes Media in the fight to save quality news journalism in America and ensure that truth has advocates who work to minimize the bias of their stories and fight for higher standards of reliability. Journalists, more than any other profession, ensure that voters have access to reliable information to inform their choices in federal, state and local elections. Journalists hold elected officials accountable for their actions and candidates accountable for their rhetoric. They fact check statements and present counter-arguments to give their readers and viewers the most complete accounting of what a politician is claiming and its veracity. The practitioners of this profession perform a service for the American people by working to uncover truth and expose falsehoods. Like the political process, they don’t always get it all right, but for the most part their intentions are in the right place.

That’s when I had a bit of an epiphany. The legal system that upholds the principles of our democratic process and the mechanics of journalism that seek to uncover and expose the truth are not separate institutions operating somewhat symbiotically: they are two halves of the same whole. Maybe I am late to the party on this thought. After all, freedom of the press is expressly articulated in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights. The great Justice Potter Stewart, argued: 

That the First Amendment speaks separately of freedom of speech and freedom of the press is no constitutional accident, but an acknowledgment of the critical role played by the press in American society. The Constitution requires sensitivity to that role, and to the special needs of the press in performing it effectively.

While I have frequently cited the First Amendment’s full-throated support of an independent press, I failed to fully realize that our political system entirely depends on that press until watching the coverage of the Georgia indictments and concluding that the flawed system still works when I saw the gaggle of press gathered outside the Fulton County courthouse awaiting the details of the indictments and remarks of Fani Willis. That’s when it struck me: the system that defends and upholds our constitution inextricably includes the free and independent press. It simply doesn’t exist without reporters who vet assertions; refute false, misleading or erroneous statements; and ensure that the apparatus of government, and the individuals sworn to uphold it, perform in the service of the electorate within the written law and widely understood principles that are bedrock to our democracy. 

Our democracy has been the incubator of a way of life that is the envy of much of the world. One only has to look at the crisis on our southern border where people arrive daily with only the clothes on their backs hoping to escape oppression and poverty to the relative utopia of the American way of life. The economic miracle of our great democratic experiment is also the fertile soil upon which businesses continue to germinate—growing and thriving with unparalleled global success from the very beginnings of our nation right up until today. American brands are an integral, indeed dominant, part of the global economy, and much of their success is the byproduct of a democratic system that both nurtures private enterprise and also—largely through an independent press—holds it accountable to standards, principles, and laws that comport with the expectations of the electorate.

Which brings us to our revenue-starved news environment today. 

There is a great incongruity between the role of the free press and our democratic process, which has germinated so many successful global brands, and the abandonment of the free press by those same businesses when it comes to their ongoing advertising investments. If business fails to support the free press, the free press can no longer play its enabling role to our successful and accountable democracy. If our democracy stumbles, its ability to nurture business stumbles along with it. That is too big a price to pay for largely unfounded brand suitability concerns. 

Brands today can continue to ignore the tremendous business benefits that come from advertising in news, as I have written about elsewhere, and suboptimize the return on their advertising investments as a result. However, they cannot dodge their obligation to support a free and independent press and expect to continue to enjoy the many business benefits that our democracy has afforded them for over two hundred years. 

Our democracy and the free press depend on each other to thrive. When one is hobbled, the other withers. Business leaders must act now—before it’s too late—and direct their marketing organizations to return to advertising in quality news journalism immediately and regardless of any perceived risks associated with the current culture wars and polarization of our electorate. The situation will continue to deteriorate unless and until the free and independent press can play their vital role of ensuring that the electorate is well informed. Truth and facts enable good decision making when it comes to what’s truly important to voters, including who should represent their interests in local, state and national office. 

CEOs, I am looking at you. Do you believe you should continue to avoid advertising in news because of brand suitability concerns, or do you want to play your important and vital role of supporting the free and independent press that has empowered our democracy and enabled your businesses to thrive? You were put in the role that you have largely because of your track records of consistently making the right decisions: make the right one here!

Lou Paskalis is Chief Strategy Officer of Ad Fontes Media, a Public Benefit company that is dedicated to restoring advertisers’ investments in reaching audiences in quality news journalism with a unique technology that allows them to measure, mitigate and monitor bias and reliability in a manner consistent with their values and principles. Previously, he was President and COO of MMA Global, a trade association focused on architecting the future of marketing. In that role, he was responsible for driving innovation and change across a broad portfolio of functional areas, initiatives and forward-looking activities centered on shaping the future of marketing. He has three decades of client-side leadership experience, having led Global Communications Planning, Media Investment, Marketing Data Strategy and Brand Safety and Suitability at Bank of America; Media, Content and Mobile Marketing at American Express and many related roles at E. & J. Gallo prior to that. He is well- known as an outspoken champion for marketing innovation, governance and the advancement of the art and science of marketing as well as a strong advocate for journalism and marketers’ unique responsibility to support news organizations in their valiant efforts to defend truth.

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